Attorneys ask to bypass security at Victoria County courthouse; sheriff says no

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Oct. 8, 2012 at 5:08 a.m.

Although a second security station is expected to shorten wait time at the Victoria County Courthouse, local attorneys say the best solution is security bypass badges.

However, Victoria commissioners are heeding the sheriff's recommendation and subjecting all attorneys - save for the district attorney's office - to security checks just like all other courthouse visitors.

Luther Easley, of the Victoria County District Attorney's Office, addressed the commissioners court on behalf of the Victoria County Bar Association on Monday.

Attorneys, unlike any other professional in the community, need the ability to get in and out of the courthouse quickly with large volumes of materials and without hassle, Easley said.

"What potential security risk - what fear do y'all have in us?" Easley asked. "Where do we draw the lines with this? Even if y'all decide that you don't deem it necessary, which I would strongly disagree with ... where's the line on who it's not necessary for?"

The bar association submitted a second proposition Monday requesting that local attorneys be issued badges to bypass the courthouse's security checkpoint. However, Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said that is not in the plan.

"At this time, I think the most important priority is to look at the expedited entrance for these individuals," O'Connor said. "I don't want to single out any profession one way or another. It's more about individuals than profession."

He said the issue is not fear; it's protecting hundreds of people going in and out of the courthouse every day.

"Are you willing to personally be responsible for everyone who's given a pass?" asked Chief Deputy Terry Simons. "The liability is huge."

County Judge Don Pozzi, who practiced law for 33 years before taking the judge's seat, said he appreciates the attorney's dilemma.

"If I were still practicing law, I would be right out there with you," Pozzi said. "However, these are new times ... I appreciate everything y'all say and the dilemma that you have, but I know you understand because all of you are smart enough to understand."

Pozzi said he would not override the sheriff's recommendation.

For liability, it is in the court's best interest to keep the checkpoints in place and the badges limited to authorized personnel, not to every attorney in Victoria County, Pozzi said.

"Read the papers, read what happens in Texas and other states," Pozzi said. "I understand what you're saying, it has nothing to do with fear. It has a lot to do with security."

Pozzi said he is committed to helping alleviate the situation to give courthouse regulars faster access.

Commissioner Kevin Janak said he supports improving the awning outside to give people caught in long security lines shelter from the weather.

Commissioner Gary Burns said he thinks the decision ultimately comes down to the sheriff's.

"Anything we can do to help, we'll back you up," Burns told the attorneys.

Commissioner Clint Ives agreed with the sentiments.

"I completely understand the attorneys' standpoint, and personally I have no problem with it," Ives said. "But I'm not willing to supercede the sheriff's judgment with the sensitive information he cannot share. I cannot take that risk."



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